Avoiding addiction through social interaction

Screenshot from the ‘Drugs Don’t Cause Addiction’ video on The Unbounded Spirit website (photo credit: THE UNBOUNDED SPIRIT)
Screenshot from the ‘Drugs Don’t Cause Addiction’ video on The Unbounded Spirit website
(photo credit: THE UNBOUNDED SPIRIT)
A new short video has gone viral discussing the proposed “Real reason for drug addiction.” It is called “Drugs Don’t Cause Addiction” on The Unbounded Spirit website.
The very straightforward clip is based on Prof. Bruce Alexander’s experiment showing how a rat that is on its own in a cage and offered regular water as well as water combined with heroin will choose the tainted water and continue drinking it until it dies.
Later, the clip shows the same scenario with a group of rats surrounded by playthings in what he called the Rat Park. In this case the rats choose the water. The conclusion is that addiction is caused by social isolation.
In the TED Talk “Everything You Know About Addiction Is Wrong,” Johann Hari proposes the same thing. The drugs given in the hospital are more potent than heroin, yet patients don’t come out addicts unless they were addicted before they were hospitalized. In the Vietnam War 20% of the soldiers used heroin, yet 95% of them stopped when they rejoined their families and communities. Portugal had one of the highest addiction rates in the world. It decided to replace its “War on Drugs” with socialization programs. The drug users were provided with a communal life and purpose. The rate of addiction went down 50%. Portugal found that the opposite of addiction is connection.
That being said, the issue runs much deeper. Addiction is considered a genetic and neurological disease, in the case of alcoholism usually jumping a generation.
According to the online magazine The Fix, experts say conscious choice plays little or no role in the actual state of addiction; as a result, a person cannot choose not to be addicted. Addicts can choose not to use the substance, or they can take part in the behavior that leads to their “self-destructive reward-circuitry loop.” However, environmental factors affect whether and how much the genetics and neurological issues will tip the scales. Parents can teach “resiliencies” and life experience which can inhibit genetic expression of addiction. “Genetics is tendency, not destiny,” says Dr.
Neil Capretto, medical director of Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh.
So what does this mean for us as parents of vulnerable teens and young adults? If our kids have an addictive personality, it can very well be that it is neurological and possibly genetic.
However, we can help to sway the outcome. By connecting with our kids and encouraging them to connect with others, we can find a way to lower the addictive behavior.
Often we can see addictive tendencies in kids with hyperactive tendencies. The same immediate gratification issues usually appear at an early age.
According to WebMD, ADHD is found in about 25% of those being treated for drug abuse and alcoholism.
Children with ADHD more commonly begin their use of alcohol and other substances in their teenage years. One study showed that 14% of children aged 15 to 17 with ADHD had issues with alcohol and substance abuse. Another study found that at the average age of 15 years, 40% of teens with ADHD began their use of alcohol, as compared to only 22% of kids without this condition.
Treating our kids with ADHD through behavior models as well as, when warranted, with medications can seriously affect their tendencies toward addiction and addictive behaviors. At the same time, by encouraging our kids to take part in youth groups, sport teams and other group activities, we find a way to limit the expansion of possible addiction. By creating strong family-like bonds through group activities, we do the same.
A mother whose 17-year-old son decided to avoid any parties that served alcohol found this to be a dilemma.
Kids will always be exposed to alcohol and need to find a way to abstain other than by avoiding such situations.
Then there is the question of drinking at home with our kids. Are we demonstrating moderation or giving the impression that alcohol use is a necessary thing? Some kids have an internal compass; others do not.
We have to know our kids to understand the way they will look at us and our behaviors. And siblings can be in very different places.
Jewish tradition provides us with ample ways to drink in moderation through ritual, yet how many of our kids have had their first drinks on Simhat Torah or Purim at an age where they don’t yet understand the ramifications of over-drinking and its particularly negative effects on the yet undeveloped brains of youth under the age of 21? Studies have shown that kids who head off to college after being protected in a bubble are more apt to take off in reckless abandonment than their peers. So, kids in high school exploring a bit on their own is better than them waiting until we are not there to guide them. This doesn’t mean we should encourage our kids to drink and use drugs.
It means that we should fill them with our parental messages but not overprotect them, and we should always emphasize that we are there for them to turn to before and after they choose to break out of the bubble in some way.
The parent patrol run by the Jerusalem Struggle Against Drugs does just that. With their yellow safety vests on, they managed to sit with the kids most in need and help guide them on a late Thursday night.
As we know, sometimes it is easier coming from a perfect stranger. In a previous article, I wrote about the importance of mentors. But even a chance encounter with the right adult at the right time and place can have a lasting effect.
The Meled school, the first one to offer alternative education to those kids whom no one would take, knows the importance of community. It is a small school that gives full attention to the individual and encourages them to be community activists. They take the kids in the neediest situations and empower them by showing how they can give to others. In this way, Meled creates a community that can help to replace the lures of drugs and alcohol.
As we have seen, addiction is not totally caused by social isolation. However, it can be tempered if we use the right tools to embrace our kids and teach them how to embrace their personal social circles – not by email or Facebook but in face-to-face encounters.
The writer is a teen and young adult counselor specializing in addictions, and has been working with youth and their parents for over 26 years. jerusalemteencounseling@gmail.com; www.jerusalemteencounseling.net